Pulitzer Prize winning screenwriter and playwright Tony Kushner has teamed up with Denzel Washington to complete the screenplay for August Wilson’s play Fences. As previously reported, Washington will be producing all ten of Wilson’s Pittsburgh based plays. Said Washington,
I’ve been given the opportunity by the August Wilson estate, he did 10 plays—I’m directing, producing and acting in one, and I’m executive producing the other nine. I made a deal with HBO. We’re going to do one a year for the next nine years.
Fences is the sixth play in Wilson’s provocative and avant garde ten play spread known as The Century Cycle, which explores African American life beginning in the 1900’s and ending in the 1990’s. This play is set in 1950’s Pittsburgh. It is the story of Troy Maxson, ‘a restless trash-collector and former baseball athlete struggling to provide for his family’. The film adaptation will be directed, produced by and will also star Washington along with Emmy and Tony award winning actress Viola Davis. Washington and Davis are reprising their roles from the 2010 Broadway revival of the play. Fences was not a part of the HBO deal and is instead slated to be filmed by Paramount with producer Scott Rudin. In 1987, Paramount Pictures bought the rights to Fences, but the project floundered because Wilson had the absolute foresight to insist that the project should have a Black director. Understandably, Paramount did not move forward with the adaptation without Wilson’s approval.
Kushner has an impressive list of successes that include most notably the seven hour, 2 part play Angels in America that explored AIDS and homosexuality in 1980’s New York. The play was later adapted into a powerful mini series by HBO. Additionally, Kushner and Rudin have worked together previously on several other projects.
Certainly, it’s exciting that the adaptation of Fences seems to finally be moving forward but the question that is becoming less of a thought and more of a roar, is at what point will African Americans be granted the full opportunity to participate in the telling of their own stories? While I am not throwing shade at the accomplishments of Kushner, isn’t this a prime opportunity for an African American screenwriter to have the opportunity to participate at the very highest level of the creative process on a play that is truly beloved by many Black theatre aficionados? Surely there is no doubt that with the plethora of smoking hot Black playwrights who are turning Broadway and the silver screen on its previously lily white ear, we could have found one, two an entire TEAM of writers who could fully embrace the magic of the venerable August Wilson?
Simply put, there must be more. And it begins by boldly throwing open the doors and saying welcome at every level of the production process. I will be happy to see Fences reach a broader audience. I am thrilled that Washington has been entrusted with this wonderful opportunity and that the amazing Viola Davis is again a part of the cast, but I can’t lie I just AIN’T satisfied and won’t be satisfied until I see our reflection peeking out from every aspect of Broadway and Hollywood; particularly when it comes to OUR stories. It’s progress, but still we must press on.
The Public Theater Will Present Hercules Musical & Hercules Is Black!
We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when. Back in 2017, we reported that a musical adaptation of the Disney movie Hercules would be headed to Broadway. Now we can confirm that is somewhat true.
Hercules will be the latest Disney musical to be made for the stage and will play Off-Broadway at the Public Theater’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park. As the final show of the Shakespeare in the Park season theater season performances will run August 31 through September 8 with a reading set to take place in April.
The role of Hercules will be played by a Black actor, according to the casting notice
The musical will include the Oscar-nominated “Go the Distance, along with other songs from the 1997 animated film by Alan Menken & David Zippel. Presented through an arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, the show will be directed by Lear deBessonet. The creative team also includes a book by Kristoffer Diaz, & choreography by Chase Brock.
Before Hercules, Kenny Leon will direct the Much Ado About Nothing May 21 through June 23 to begin the Shakespeare in the Park season.
Casting for all both productions will be announced at a later date
Lynn Nottage Today, Tomorrow and Beyond
Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Tony Award nominated play Sweat ended its Broadway run at Studio 54 on June 25. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to Sweat, and we’re definitely not ready to say goodbye to Lynn Nottage, leaving us to wonder what’s next for the two-time Pulitzer prize-winning playwright?
First, if you didn’t get a chance to see Sweat on Broadway or if you did but can’t get one of the poorest cities in America off your heart and mind, then you’ll want to visit Reading, Pennsylvania this summer. Shortly after finishing Sweat, Nottage came up with the idea for a site-specific performance installation honoring the people of Reading. Nottage shared that for a city divided by economical and racial politics, she wanted to highlight the city’s potential to use art and culture to bring its citizens together. The installation titled This is Reading will weave “individual stories into one cohesive and compelling tale of the city. Exploring the various viewpoints of the diverse community, [and] give the audience a vibrant and unique perspective of the city of Reading.” The installation will utilize live performance, visual media, and film. Located at Franklin Street Station, Reading PA, This is Reading will run July 14-16, July 21-23 and July 28-30.
What could possibly be next for Nottage? A musical of course!
Not just any musical, but an adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s book, The Secret Life of Bees. Book by Nottage, music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), lyrics by Susan Birkenhead (Jelly’s Last Jam) and direction by Sam Gold (Fun Home).
Nottage’s first musical follows the story of Lilly Owens, a white teen growing up in 1960’s South Carolina and her Black caretaker Rosaleen. After Rosaleen is hospitalized following an attempt to vote, she and Lily do their best to escape the harsh realities of their respective lives in the Jim Crow South, and happen upon a bee farm. “It sang to me” Nottage said of adapting Kidd’s book to a musical, “Every page I saw a song.”
The Secret Life of Bees will be presented as a workshop production at the Powerhouse Theater from July 27-29, apart of the New York Stage and Film’s 2017 season.
Finally, for the 2017/2018 season, Nottage’s play Mlima’s Tale will make it’s world premiere at The Public Theater and run from March 27 through May 20, 2018. Mlima’s Tale follows the story of Mlima, an african elephant caught between freedom and the
international ivory black market. Ultimately a story about trade itself, “Mlima leads us through memory and fear, history and tradition, want and need, and reveals the surprising and complicated deals that connect us all.” Next season, The Public will celebrate 50 years at its Astor Place location, and Lynn Nottage will be the only Black playwright with work presented.
From a site-specific performance installation, to her first musical, ending with another show at The Public Theater… Lynn Nottage has given us a lot to look forward to following her Broadway debut, and we will be ready. Sitting front and center.